DTV converter boxes in stores by Feb. 18

DTV converter boxes should be on store shelves by Feb. 18, one year before the turn-off date of analog television, the acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said last week.

Meredith Atwell Baker, acting NTIA administrator, made the statement at the first formal meeting with its government partners in a wide-ranging DTV education effort. She said she did not think the FCC will need to require broadcasters to air public service announcements about the transition or cable operators to use bill stuffers, adding that voluntary industry efforts remained the best way to get the message across.

Tony Wilhelm, director of consumer affairs for the campaign, said the group’s education efforts includes a benefits week in April, when the emphasis will be on helping to free up spectrum for first responders who protect the local community, and the freeing up of spectrum for advanced wireless devices that will benefit consumers.

There will be an application completion week in September, where churches, synagogues, mosques and other community gathering places will be encouraged to provide application information. In the fall, the emphasis will switch to “Life Without Television,” to emphasize that some viewers could lose their signals if they don’t take quick action.

The NTIA, added Wilhelm, will work with rural groups on a targeted message to those with low-power stations that may not necessarily be making the switch to digital Feb. 17, 2009. While all full-power stations have to switch by then, low-power stations and translators that relay signals to remote areas do not, so the government will need to get that point across amid all of the material promoting the Feb. 17 date.

In the meantime, NAB president David Rehr wrote the heads of seven major retailers asking them to make sure that DTV converter boxes are on the shelves by February, when the NTIA has said that it plans to start processing applications for government-subsidized $40 coupons toward the purchase of those boxes. Letters went to executives at Best Buy, Circuit City, Kmart, Radio Shack, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart stores.

The coupons expire within 90 days of issuance, which adds further impetus to the request.